What I have learned from running a small software consultancy

Me and two friends started Glio in September 2012. By day Glio was a consultancy, offering website development (mainly with WordPress on LAMP) and graphic design services. By night Glio tried to be an incubator — we hashed out hypotheses and ran lean experiments, but unfortunately nothing sustainable ever emerged from these endeavours.

We finally shut Glio down sometime at the end of 2014. It goes without saying that I learnt loads during these two years. This post attempts to chronicle these learnings.

  • You’re in for the long haul. Despite what Silicon Valley might make you think, building a company is going take time. At times, it’s going to be boring and unglamorous. It’s definitely going to be hard work. Make sure that you realise the gravity of this, and make doubly sure that your partners realise it.
  • Separate your role as an owner from your role as an employee. As a owner it’s expected of you to bring leadership to the table. As an employee, it’s expected that you do quality work and that you are remunerated in return. Don’t confuse the two roles. Working 60 hours a week doesn’t make a good owner. Leadership, vision and care makes you a good owner.
  • Being really good at something does not mean that you should start your own business offering the skill. This speaks to the previous point. Being really good at X and getting paid for it, versus being really good at X and trying to sell it to unknown customers in a repeatable, sustainable and scalable way are two very different things. If you want to start your own business, make sure you’re the kind of person that loves the latter (otherwise go work for a boss).
  • It’s about the other eight business model building blocks too. The Business Model Generation book outlines nine building blocks that constitute a business model: value proposition, customers, customer relationships, sales channels, key activities, key resources, partners, cost structure and revenue streams. We often found ourselves in the situation where we focus only on one building block, value proposition, and completely ignore the other eight building blocks. If you’ve got a good idea, just build it and they will come, right? Wrong. You need all the other building blocks figured out too, and those are the hard ones.
  • The admin around starting and running a business can be complicated and tedious. Outsource these tasks where it’s worth it to do so (we did our own tax for a long time, and then outsourced it and haven’t looked back since).
  • Process is important, but values are more important. While a solid process will help you to control scope creep, for example, values will make you understand why it’s necessary to control scope in the first place. A good comprehension of the former without any presence of the latter will just cause headaches.